From the June 1997 issue of Startups

Why pay retail? Download affordable shareware to experiment with various small-business programs.

Whether you are just starting out, trying to save money while building your business, or are simply bargain-minded, you can save a great deal of money by buying high-quality shareware. You can find shareware to meet all your needs, from word processing, contact management and payroll to accounts receivable, e-mail, and Internet access.

There are four categories of computer programs:


  • Commercial. Commercial programs typically cost hundreds of dollars. In fact, if you buy commercial software, you may find that you are spending more money on the package of programs needed to run your business than you'll spend on a standard desktop computer. Many developers of the most popular commercial programs bundle them into suites--typically including a spreadsheet, word processor, presentation program, personal information manager (PIM) and, optionally, a database-management system and other, smaller programs--and sell them at a substantial discount. (See the "Start-Up Mart" guide to small-business software in the May issue of Business Start-Ups.)


  • Trial or demo versions. Commercial software companies provide time- or feature-limited versions of their programs. This means that you can try out a full version of a program for 30 or 45 days, or use a version that allows you to add and modify only a few records. It is the software company's hope that you will want to buy the commercial version at its regular price.


  • Shareware. Typically developed and supported by small companies or individual programmers, shareware programs are inexpensive, yet often offer as many features as pricey commercial programs. Producers of shareware allow you to download their programs (transfer files to your computer) from their World Wide Web sites so that you can test them before purchasing them for a low price, usually $40 or $50.


  • Freeware. Freeware programs are absolutely free, with no time or feature limits. Sometimes, software publishers distribute older or "lite" versions (versions with fewer features) of their programs as a marketing tool, and some developers give their programs away as a public service.

Jay Biondo, president of shareware distributor Biondo Software (http://www.bsoftware.com/) in Morton Grove, Illinois, says, "Shareware and commercial software companies depend on the same factors to sell their products: price, dependability, technical support, ease of use, and program quality. Furthermore, users can try the shareware for several weeks without any obligations."

William Davis, president and CEO of Davis & Associates Communications Inc., a year-old Internet service provider and data-communications company in Jacksonville, Florida, adds, "People can download different programs and test them before deciding on a particular program. The costs of shareware are usually easier to swallow than the costs of larger packages."

When it comes to eventually getting paid for their product, many developers simply rely on the honesty of those who download their programs. (In order to pay for any of the shareware you plan to keep using, you usually fill in a form and send it, along with a personal check, to the shareware developer, or fill in an online form and provide credit-card information.) Other developers build reminders into the downloaded programs. For example, messages will pop up regularly and interrupt your work, or a window will appear to explain the shareware concept before you can start working. If you register, you get a real copy of the program without the pop-up messages or windows. The most sophisticated developers put a time limit on the use of the shareware. When you run out of time, they hope that you have become dependent on their program and will purchase it.

Will Margiloff, vice president of advertising and marketing at New York City-based Jumbo Inc. (see "Shareware Sources" on pg. 12 for further information), which distributes business programs and other shareware programs, says, "Shareware and freeware are economical alternatives to commercial software. They are cost-efficient and effective because they are inexpensive and reliable."

Because shareware developers spend very little money on advertising, you may have to devote more time to finding a highly rated shareware program. For example, you may have to read through many computer magazines that regularly rate shareware, or search the Web for reliable shareware sites, the best of which feature plenty of products and provide objective reviews.

"The advantage of shopping for shareware on the Net," Davis says, "is that the developer can always make the latest version of the software available."

"Start-up businesses need software to track inventory, manage their accounting needs, create business proposals, and manage their customers," Biondo says. "As a result, most business shareware is tested for both functionality and reliability by its users. A business operator selecting shareware from a company that has been around for a couple of years can be assured that the shareware will be stable and that he or she will have all the tools necessary to run a business."

I reviewed all the programs mentioned in this column. All are Windows 95 or Windows 3.1 programs. In general, you can run Windows 3.1 under Windows 95.

Word Processing Shareware

For word processing, the shareware choices are surprisingly sparse. Two well-rated shareware word processors are WordExpress for Windows 95 and Yeah Write (for Windows 3.1). WordExpress contains many of the same features you can find in the most competitive commercial word processors. Yeah Write, which has been developed by a group of former programmers of the WordPerfect word processor, is useful for keeping journals and writing simple letters and memoranda.

WordExpress for Windows 95 (MicroVision Development Inc.; $49.95) is a very impressive word processor that matches almost every Word for Windows feature. WordExpress includes text enhancements, paragraph formatting, borders and shading, tables, headers and footers, a spell checker, find-and-replace, drawing tools, and picture insertion. You can use the trial version for 30 days.

Yeah Write (Word Place Inc.; $15) is a unique and easy-to-use Windows 3.1 (or greater) word processor. Yeah Write enables you to create short documents using built-in formats arranged under tabs, which line up at the top of the program window. Using the free version of the program, you can add a diary or journal entry, a general-purpose document with a hidden date and subject field, a business or personal letter, memos, and notes. The shareware version allows you to use the Address, E-Mail, and Faxes modules. Yeah Write includes text enhancements, paragraph formatting, a spell checker, pop-up help messages, and find-and-replace.

Contact-Management And Scheduling Software

You can choose from many shareware PIMs and contact-management programs. To use these programs as an electronic secretary, you can: compile a database of names, addresses, telephone numbers, and other information about your business and personal contacts; maintain a prioritized list of tasks; and keep a detailed calendar of your current and future schedules. Some of these programs automatically dial telephone numbers from contact records, send faxes, set alarms as reminders of appointments, prepare form letters for selected contacts, and print calendars and address books in various dimensions.

ACE for Windows (Santa Fe Software; free), a Windows 3.1 (or greater) contact-management program that includes calendars, alarms, a telephone dialer, a fax feature, and more, can be used to keep client information, maintain your schedule, and manage a list of tasks. Using ACE, you can write letters and memos using your regular word processor and also create and print labels. You can also automatically dial a telephone number from the record, and compile many predefined reports. Although the free version says that it is limited to 30 contacts, you can call the developer and register the program.

Delegator (Madrigal Software; $39), an easy-to-use Windows 3.1 (or greater) program is designed for managers who want to track their employees' assignments in detail. If you run a single-person business, you can use Delegator to track multiple assignments. Features include an address book and telephone dialer. You can use the reports feature to evaluate employees and projects. The trial version slows down a little every day after the first 21 days.

Time & Chaos (iSBiSTER International Inc.; $45) is a well-designed Windows 95 program with which you can manage your time and contacts. The application window contains four small windows: a calendar, telephone book, appointments for today, and a to-do list. Time & Chaos also provides optional access to the Microsoft Personal Address Book (PAB). You can use the trial version for 21 days.

Visual Calendar Planner (Bok Nan Lo; $29.95) is a small Windows 3.1 (or greater) scheduling program that looks like a monthly (the default), weekly, or daily calendar, depending on your choice. Simply type in your schedule and then edit selected text, using colors and enhancements. You can set an alarm to remind yourself of an important meeting and automate the addition of regularly scheduled appointments. You can use the trial version for 30 days.

Spreadsheets

A small business can use a spreadsheet to track numbers of any kind: accounts receivable, accounts payable, income and expenses, commissions, and so on.

Lucid 3-D (Lucid Corp.; $49.95) is one of the few good shareware spreadsheet programs. It includes features for budgeting, cash-flow analysis, income statements, and balance sheets. Designed for small and homebased business, Lucid 3-D includes more than 140 functions and a macro language. (A macro is a series of commands that are run automatically when you run the macro. For example, you can use a macro to display a warning message, change a font, or alter the height of a row. If you always perform the same set of simple steps when you open a spreadsheet, you can make a macro do the job for you.) Lucid 3-D can import files from and export files to Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel, two of today's most popular commercial spreadsheet programs.

Accounting Programs

You can find many highly rated programs for a variety of your business's accounting needs.

Financial Freedom Billing Manager Pro (M & R Technologies; $69.95) is a user-friendly Windows 95 billing program with five modules: Customer Manager, Invoice Manager, Product Manager, Payment Wizard and Report Wizard. Also included are frequently asked questions and a well-organized help facility. You are licensed to use the trial version for 30 days.

Great Plains Profit (Great Plains Software Inc.; $79) is a well-designed Windows 95 program with a file-cabinet interface and seven modules: Transactions, Cardfile, Reports, Profit Signs, Wizards, Accounting and Setup. If you are a novice, use the Wizards to set up forms, statements, budgets, mailing labels and envelopes, and so on. You can try out the trial version of the program for 25 sessions.

The Payroll Store (Software Store Products Inc.; $89) is a Windows 3.1 (or greater) business-payroll program. A user can edit tax tables, deductions and contributions. Other features include payroll graphs, a time-sheet journal, a check journal, check printing and reprinting, and an employee database. You can use the trial version for 30 days.

Database Programs

A small business can use a database built into a contact-management program to keep track of people to whom it sells or markets its products or services. However, many contact-management programs do not allow much latitude in searching for specific audiences for targeted form letters. A database-management system allows multilevel searches. In addition, you can use a database program to maintain an inventory, detailed information for each employee, or a meeting-room schedule.

ViaBase (Viable Software; $49.95) is a very easy-to-use Windows 3.1 (or greater) database-management system for both business and home. This full-featured program includes automatic calculations, picture and sound fields, a sophisticated search facility, and complex queries--all important features for competitive database programs. The seven example database input forms are weighted toward home use. Business examples include two order forms and a contact-management database.

Shareware Sources

The following sites on the World Wide Web offer many business shareware titles:

SoftSeek (http://www.softseek.com/) provides links to shareware and trial versions of programs. Click on the Business & Productivity link and then click on a subcategory. When you find a program in which you are interested, click on the program name to reveal a page of information, including links to the developer's Web site. You can find most of the shareware mentioned in this column at SoftSeek.

Windex: The Windows Index (http://windex.daci.net/) organizes business programs under two categories: Personal Information Managers and Business & Productivity Applications. The entry for each program includes the program title, a link to the developer's Web site (from which you can download one or more programs), and a description of the program.

Shareware.com (http://www.shareware.com/) provides links to various programs. To find business shareware, type a keyword or phrase and click on a search button. The results include the file name, date, the file size, and a description of its features.

ZDNet Software Library (http://www6.zdnet.com/) is a large library of shareware that includes hundreds of business titles. Each entry includes a program name and synopsis of its features, the date it was added to the library, a rating (by the writers and editors of Ziff-Davis magazines) of one to five stars (or NR for no rating), and the number of times it has been downloaded, which serves as a measurement of a program's popularity.

Jumbo (http://www.jumbo.com/) offers shareware, freeware, and trial versions of software. Click on business, financial, or another category on the home page, select your computer operating system, and then click on a subcategory to reveal a list of shareware programs.

Intervue Digest's Egallery (http://www.eqp.com/id/egallery.html) is a valuable directory of many shareware sites. Each entry includes a long review of the featured site by Joseph Delgado, the creator, editor and Webmaster of Intervue Digest, a magazine with an online site.

Sandra E. Eddy lives in upstate New York. She is currently writing a book on GIF animation for MIS:Press.

Contact Sources

Biondo Software, P.O. Box 212, Morton Grove, IL 60053,(847) 965-8928, jbiondo@bsoftware.com.

Davis & Associates Communications Inc., 621 University Blvd. N., Jacksonville, FL 32211, (904) 880-6400, wdavis@daci.net.

Jumbo Inc., 43 W. 33rd St., New York, NY 10001, (212) 244-2870, will@jumbo.com.